SAINT CHARLES DE FOUCAULD
1. The Foucaulds de Pontbriand.
A HEART OF GOLD.
Every great genius has deep down a principle that never changes. Unlike those biographers who attribute a great pride, a demented ambition, even a will for power to Charles de Foucauld (cf. the Father Jean-François Six), our Father defines him as “a heart of gold”! Throughout all the events of his life, even the worst excesses, in the most violent storms and the greatest aberrations, we come across this constant in his life: a tender love for his family, for the memories and places of his childhood. For him, that was sacred!
His devoted affection for his sister Marie never faded; it was of a delicacy and sweetness that knew no decline. During the whole of his life he wrote to her every fortnight. When she married Raymond de Blic, he made him his friend and maintained a profound and intimate relationship with him.
It will be the same with his aunt Moitessier and her two daughters, Marie and Catherine, who will have a great influence on his life, as we shall see. We have one hundred and forty nine letters which he wrote to his cousin Louis de Foucauld, stamped with the same devotion and the same interest in his family, and their spiritual welfare and with his concern to please them. With infinite tact and discretion, he will gently and softly try to lead Louis back to the faith. His affection for him will never fail throughout his life.
But this love does not extend just to persons, but to “the family” whose patrimony of faith, beauty, instruction, honour and fidelity is Charles de Foucauld’s most precious treasure. After having repossessed this wealth, he will never cease, until his dying day, to give thanks for it. In a letter to his cousin Marie he writes, from Tamanrasset, shortly before his martyrdom:
«How fortunate and favoured we all are, – you, your children, me, all those we love – by the Heart of Jesus, Who has caused us to be born in the Church of truly Christian parents, in our France, in a family where we have received
a Christian upbringing, education and good traditions. The state of the people around me is deplorable! They are so surrounded by evil and errors ! It is difficult for them to lead even a naturally good life. » (To Marie de Bondy, 15 October 1916)
A FAMILY TRADITION.
The family is of very ancient Perigord nobility. In 970, Hugues de Foucauld, Lord of Cerniaud and of Excideuil, abandoned his castles to go and pray in monasteries. Bertrand de Foucauld took the Cross with Saint Louis and was killed at Mansourah.
In the 17th century, the younger branch, called de Cubjac, from the Foucaulds de Pontbriand branch, separated from the eldest branch, the Foucaulds de Lardimalie. Came the Revolution... Among the martyrs of the Carmelite convent massacred on 2nd September 1792, Charles counts two great uncles: Canon Armand de Foucauld de Pontbriand, vicar general of Arles, and his cousin, Jean-Marie d’Allemans du Lau, prince archbishop of this same city. They are canonised today. In 1913, Father de Foucauld will celebrate Mass in the crypt of the seminary where the bones of the martyrs are kept. No doubt he again heard this call to martyrdom which inspired his whole life.
But there is more. This heart of gold also reveals itself to be of profound intelligence. He understands that in order to safeguard the bonds uniting the living and the dead, it is necessary to fight against the Revolution which is destructive of families and of their traditions. The family of Charles de Foucauld belongs to “the old Right” of the end of the French nineteenth century, legitimist and patriarchal: Mgr Freppel’s Right. The biographers have avoided reproducing the terms in which this saint manifested his horror for the Revolution. In 1893, the year following the “ ralliement” imposed on French Catholics by Leo XIII, he wrote to Louis:
« I understand your horror of the Revolution! Everything that smacks of it has always inspired me with a boundless disgust. I abhor it, and it is quite natural that, in seeing countries that are regularly governed (Louis was then in London for a period), you should feel keenly the humiliation of our country. France is, alas, in a sad way, and one cannot see who will save her.
« May God keep her; it is He who protects peoples, but they must not be too unworthy of it; ingratitude and evil must not exceed the limit. France is, as you say, panic-stricken, and the sight of the wretches at her head and the fools who follow them is a very sorry one indeed!» (20 November 1893)
In a letter of 1899 to the same cousin, he speaks of the consolations the Good God sends to his home, and he concludes by saying:
«In the midst of the horrors that are happening in our country, an unhappy country because guilty (an allusion to the terrible rupture that was the Dreyfuss Affair); a country abandoned by the good God, because it first abandoned God; our country which has perhaps been more favoured by Heaven’s graces than any other, is no longer Catholic except in name. In reality, our country is free-thinking, masonic, socialist, Jewish, finally, without religion and with no other God except money, pleasure and power. God, Who is ever good, even when He chastises, inflicts very few positive punishments: the first of the punishments He normally gives is to withdraw from those who withdraw from Him, and to abandon them to their “immoral desires”, as the Bible says, gradually withdrawing from them the help of His grace, and leaving them to their natural lights alone, which will lead them to the abyss. Let France become Catholic again, and she will thereby cease to be the prey of Jews and socialists.
«What is more, if people without faith were to reach the highest possible degree of material and human wealth, what little grandeur and what a sad fate would be theirs, since after a life of sixty, seventy or eighty years, they would still have to die and be unhappy for all eternity.
«Whereas, even in the lowest and the poorest country, in Poland or in Ireland for example, any faithful Catholic soul, after the still short years of this life, “a night spent in a bad inn”! will find an incomprehensible happiness for eternity.
«France is extremely culpable: it is not surprising that she should fall so low! But even if she were faithful, she could have many outward setbacks, like the Pope, like the Apostles, like Jesus Christ, for we should never forget the great words of Jesus to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world!” »
Like most families, the Foucaulds were divided among several political tendencies. Without stirring up divisions, Father de Foucauld was concerned to save the inheritance, and his preference went to the family branch most faithful to that inheritance, whilst trying to bring back those who had wandered far from the true traditions.
On the Morlet side, that is his mother’s family, he favoured the Morlaincourts because they were anti-liberal royalists and intransigent Catholics who retained an influence in their religion. He admired them and held them up as an example. Likewise, when his sister married Raymond de Blic, he becomes attached to the Blic tradition, rich in solid political convictions and of sound education.
On his paternal side, the Foucaulds de Pontbriand were somewhat removed from what he considered to be his family ideal down the centuries. They were officials of the Empire, having been ruined by the Revolution. As administrators of Water and Forests in Alsace, they certainly had an honourable and dignified position. But they were no longer lords with responsibility for souls in both the temporal and the spiritual order. Officialdom was already forming, at that period, a false nobility for whom public service on the orders of a secular State was replacing the grand paternalistic vocation, which gave the aristocracy responsibility for a territory and its inhabitants.
THE FOUCAULDS DE LARDIMALIE.
That is why Charles de Foucauld will try to forge links with the descendants of the elder branch who kept to the older tradition: the Foucaulds de Lardimalie distinguished themselves under the Ancien Régime for their services and their fidelity to the King.
On his return from Morocco, before his conversion, he will visit the places of origin of these very distant kinsmen. He will go there in search of the truth of his being, at this turning point of his existence. Later, the hermit of Tamanrasset will meet their direct descendant, Arnauld de Foucauld-Lardimalie on his visits to metropolitan France, in 1909, 1911, 1913:
«Little though we have seen of each other, he wrote after his second visit, we realised that we think the same way on this subject as on many others.»
(to the marquise de Foucauld-Lardimalie, 10 October 1912)
He will not cease until he has met his cousin Louis de Foucauld des Lardimalie. Cousin Arnaud is then president of the Dordogne section of Action française. He will die in 1932 faithful to A.F. despite the condemnation of 1926. That tells what tradition Father de Foucauld then appealed to, even though, having been away for twenty years, he was not involved in these political battles. He will never disapprove of them, but it seems, according to all his letters, that he saw them as only a part, a necessary part certainly, but merely secondary, of the work for the restoration of France. He hoped for more, which is why his canonisation cause is being held up. He wanted to see France re-made as a country of Christendom and restored to her rank as eldest daughter of the Church. Omnia instaurare in Christo, «To restore all things in Christ!» according to the motto of Pope Saint Pius X. In 1909, he wrote to Lardimalie:
«During the last few days in Paris I have spoken about you, Arnaud and Périgord with Louis, whom I would like, now that he is free from the Garrison, to see taking up the family traditions for too long interrupted by the Foucaulds de Pontbriand. He could keep a pied-à-terre in Paris and then take a smallholding in Périgord. In our sad times, we have to pull together to preserve old families with Christian traditions and the land grouped around them, receiving from them through the example and the goodness of these same traditions, and defended by them against the modern barbarians invading Europe.»
(to the marquise de Foucauld-Lardimalie, 31 March 1909)
That is what makes him extraordinarily familiar to our ears! In a letter written in the same year, he says:
«In our sad times, – sad because many souls are being lost, but sweet for those who live in the love of Him whose love is the call and the beginning of beatitude, – in these times when so many souls are in such great danger, the servants of Jesus must be united among themselves, to work at their own sanctification and for the salvation of others; the servants of the Spouse who are in the front rank of society must unite and, in a spirit of fraternity, go down to those who are humanly less elevated: love them and be loved by them, in order to make but one spiritual family in the love of God and of neighbour.»
(to the marquise de Foucauld-Lardimalie, 31 July 1909)
Another letter, written at Easter 1912, shows, with perfect clarity, how far his thinking had developed on that subject:
«I find that it is a duty to make a life such that oneself and one’s descendants can have a beneficent influence on society. Our duties as Christians are not confined to our own soul, nor to the souls of our family: they extend to the souls of the people among whom we live first of all, and then to the souls of all humans.»
One sees here how the apostolate proceeds directly from love of the family and of tradition. He continues:
«Our heart, the heart of the Christian, must be one with the Heart of Jesus; consequently, the Christian must make a life for himself and prepare his children for a life that will be useful and beneficial for the souls of one’s neighbour. That is hardly possible in Paris! especially for uprooted souls like Louis. It is easy in the country, especially when returning to the family birthplace: in my eyes, that is the major reason which settles the question absolutely! There are others which argue in the same direction: the difficulty of giving one’s boys a good upbringing in Paris: in Paris they all too easily follow, as they grow up, the bad examples they see all around them rather than the good, and they let themselves be lured by dangerous attractions instead of following good advice; and then the isolation of this sad Paris, where one is drowned, whereas in the country, you are surrounded by people you know and who know you; you are familiar with everything and everybody and you have dear and reliable parents and relations who are like other selves!»
(to the marquise de Foucauld-Lardimalie, Easter 1912)
Such was the social role of the Catholic nobility envisaged by Father de Foucauld at that time. His cousin Louis de Foucauld de Pontbriand finally gave in to his entreaties and bought La Renaudie, in order to be able to settle in Périgord. The Father wrote to him on the 7th December 1911:
«Congratulations on having bought La Renaudie. In my opinion you could not do better for the future of your children. Brought up in the country, they will see the serious side of life. The example of the frivolous and useless life led by many in Paris is poison. Much as you give yourself and your children good examples, surround them with good masters and lavish good teaching on them, it is difficult for all this good not to be more or less drowned or swept away by the deluge of the frivolous life that inundates Paris. Beside the good examples given in the family, the children will necessarily see others, which have more attraction for young people. One may be sad but not surprised if they follow them. From childhood they will forge life-lasting friendships with children of the same age and of the same country, whose parents were friends of their parents, and whose children will be friends of theirs. They will be surrounded with friendship, the friendship of the old people, old family friends, the friendship of the friends of their father and mother, and those of the children. They will be rid of those purely mundane and cold relationships of that sea which is Paris; and, in their place, with much less glitter, they will have friendships that are solid, wholesome and sweet. They will be attached to the country people, will know them all and will see in them what they are in the eyes of the Christian: an extension of the family! They will love them and do good to them; in daily contact with them, they will feel the truth, the rightness and the sweetness of the precept: “To love your neighbour as yourself”! and they will make the principal affair of their life to do good, “transivit benefaciendo”. They will be attached to the very soil of this country and will feel at home there. If, like your father and you, they are officers, they will lovingly return to that home for every leave.
It will be a profound joy to meet again old friends of every condition, those from the manor house and those from the cottage. They will love the whole country: the fields, the woods, the old church: no matter how far away they are with the Army, their ever loved and desired home will be there: they will fly back there, like birds to the nest, on every occasion. And when they take their retirement, they won’t have to ask where to go: their life will be traced in advance, their occupations mapped out beforehand. After having done good in the military world, they will return home and do good to the country people and to all around them until the very last day. Their life will be as full and as occupied, perhaps even more so, than during their time in the services.»
(letter to Louis de Foucauld de Pontbriand, 7th December 1911)
More and more worried for “our families”, because of secularism, he recommends that the children be given a good formation and encourages each one to enter the fray, each in his own country amidst the peoples surrounding him. Not the great overall political fray, which the Ralliement may have prevented him from supporting, and which alarmed him, from afar, with its excesses, its artificial and corrupt character. Let each one act where he is! He exhorted the members of his family to stand for the municipal elections, to be at the service of their people and to keep them in the Christian and national traditions. To his brother-in-law, Raymond de Blic, he wrote in 1896:
«I hope you will pass on to your children the love of the countryside: one can do so much good there; it is so necessary to have good men at the head of these country people, who are the best of what remains in France!»
To Raymond de Blic again, at the height of the persecution, in 1898:
«It is so necessary, especially today, not to enter life unarmed, he writes about his sister’s children, but to enter life solidly Christian, knowing why one believes, and capable of proving to oneself and to others the reasons for believing!» (6th January 1898)
«I am thinking of you, he wrote to him again on 5th October 1898; I love solitude, the countryside, so much; I see your duty as lying there, not only yours, but that of all the French nobility. I see so clearly the good that they can do there, and that they ought to do for souls, through example, goodness and the practice of all the Christian virtues in the midst of these peoples.»
Much more than in political parties and propaganda, he believes in this influence, especially in times of persecution, as the long term remedy for every evil, when God will permit the enemies to be disarmed.
Our Father will always show himself imbued with this same spirit with regard to his own flock, regarding it as none other than an extension of his own family. Exhorting all to recover the love of their own families and neighbours, with veneration for the dead, and a sense of fidelity to the traditions to be handed on to the children.
Our Father never failed to add: «Someone will say to me: “But what about me, I have no family to speak of, I have no traditions, I am one of those serfs produced by modern society; so what is to become of me?” I shall answer: “Well, allow yourself to be adopted by Father de Foucauld!” Here we have a family which is open to us through the generosity of this heart of gold. Just as he loved all the members of his own family, he would have desired to have brothers and sisters, and even an entire people of lay folk who would be attached to his work, that is to say, who would share his love for neighbour and then for those furthest away. So, if we have no family, let us allow ourselves to be inserted into this great family of age old France and of the Catholic Church!»
CCR n° 291, December 1996